Writing Into (not in) the Dark

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Writing Into (not in) the Dark
* Bradbury Challenge Writers Reporting
* Idea for an Article
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“I did the same [kind of spot research] ghostwriting a novel about events in Argentina, which neither I nor the author have ever visited. His agent sent back a note that the prospects of sales to a publisher were significantly enhanced by his personal and in-depth knowledge of that country. The author and the writer had a good laugh over that.” Dan Baldwin, in a comment on yesterday’s Journal post

Writing Into (not in) the Dark

Some folks get this confused about this.

When I advocate writing into the dark, I’m not talking about sitting alone in a dark room making stuff up, though if you want to keep distracting lights at a minimum (as I do) that works too.

But none of that matters.

Writing into the dark means, literally, writing without knowing where the story’s going or what will happen next.

Like walking into the darkness without knowing what’s out there. The unknown is exciting, even exhilarating, but when you’re sitting at your keyboard it’s completely safe. No harm will come to you at all from writing into the dark.

Besides, it’s the characters’ story, not yours. The characters are taking all the real risks. In the characters’ story they’re in a gunfight or falling in love or settling into a car on a rickety rollercoaster. But in YOUR story you’re sitting at your keyboard making stuff up, right?

If you go into writing a story or novel tentatively, fearful about whether readers will like the story or whether you got every line perfect, you’ll be tempted to plan ahead, maybe even outline or “erect signposts along the way” or whatever.

You’ll be tempted to revise, even rewrite, in the relentless pursuit of perfection (sorry, Lexus), and I guarantee you will screw up the story.

You can no sooner know in advance what’s going to happen in your characters’ authentic story than you can know in advance what a stranger halfway around the world will have for breakfast three days from now. Nor should you concern yourself.

Authenticity is spontaneous, not planned out. So take a deep breath, feel the exhiliration of not knowing what’s going to happen next, and plunge in.

The best advice I can give you — If you’re up there in an authorial ivory tower, controlling everything in the story, come on down here with the regular wordaday writers. Realize the writing itself, not the story, is what truly matters. Ditch the glowing authorial robes and slip into a pair of jean, ssneakers and and a t-shirt.

Then grin, jump into the trenches of the story and try to keep up as you run through the story with your characters. It is literally the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

And you already know how.

You have been absorbing Story your entire life from several sources. For example

  • Fiction you read
  • Dramas and sitcoms you watch on television
  • Films you watch in theaters or on television
  • The better commercial ads
  • Stories other adults and children relate to you, from family tales and adventures to who cut off whom in traffic, near-accidents, and so on

You can intentionally continue your ongoing learning by osmosis by simply putting a thought in the back of your mind before you begin reading a short story or novel or before you switch on the television or pop a DVD into the player. Once the thought is there, forget about it and just enjoy the story

Some examples of thoughts you might use are

  • I want to learn Story Structure
  • I want to learn Depth (intimate description of characters and setting) that will pull readers into my stories and keep them there
  • I want to learn pacing
  • I want to learn scene/chapter cliffhangers
  • I want to learn story/chapter hooks
  • Or anything else you can think of

If you sit down with one of those thoughts in mind, your creative subconscious will absorb whatever it can about that skill as you read for pleasure. Trust it.

This is getting long, so I’ll continue this tomorrow with How to Study Particular Passages/Skills in Novels. Don’t miss it!

Bradbury Challenge Writers Reporting

Anyone can jump in (or jump back in) and join the challenge at any time. This is a great way to jumpstart your writing and get more practice pushing down the critical voice.

There’s no cost.

Notice, there’s no pressure re submitting or publishing. That’s up to you. The point of the challenge is to have fun. Learning to keep track of your writing is a bonus.

During the past week, in addition to whatever other fiction they’re writing, the following writers reported their progress:

Short Fiction

  • Erin Donoho “Angel from Indiana” 3000 Historical Psychological Fiction
  • George Kordonis “All In Good Fun” 1788 Urban Fantasy
  • Chynna Pace “Mince Pie Dreams” 4741 Mystery
  • Christopher Ridge “Hammer Smashed Face” 2100 Horror/psychopath
  • K.C. Riggs “Braille for Aliens” 3518 Satire

Longer Fiction

  • Balázs Jámbor *Trilogy of the Lora Stories* (novel) 2500 (14500 total to date) Fantasy
  • Alexander Nakul *Horses of Mayhem* 9235 (32821 total to date) Historical Fantasy

Idea for an Article

One of my donors asked whether I might write a Journal post about writing through pain, for example after a major surgery or illness.

I don’t have personal experience with that, so I can’t do it. If any of you want to write a guest post, please feel free and I’ll consider it for inclusion in the Journal.

She also asked about using Word’s text-to-speech function or other text-to-speech software. I gave her the email address for a friend of mine who regularly uses text-to-speech, but a guest post on this (or both) would no doubt be helpful.

While we’re on the topic, if any of you have had a good experience using a voice recorder, that might also be a good option for her and a good article for the Journal.

If you know about any of those technologies, please share what you know. Thanks!

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Dr. Mardy Great quotes and a great deal more. You can also subscribe now for only $30 per year, only $2.50 per month. I strongly recommend it. Wonderful fodder for fiction writers.

A Celebration of Great Opening Lines in World Literature From friend Sam T.

Draft2Digital Blog High time I listed this. It’s a wealth of information.

Free Chilling Thrillers!

Remember to Breathe

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1080

Writing of Blackwell Ops 11: Jeremy Stiles (novel)
A Circle of Doubt

Day 1…… 5214 words. To date…… 5214
Day 2…… 2657 words. To date…… 7871
Day 3…… 2481 words. To date…… 10352

Fiction for October…………………… 2481
Fiction for 2023………………………… 22023
Fiction since August 1………………… 105436
Nonfiction for October……………… 2330
Nonfiction for the year……………… 200680
Annual consumable words………… 420643

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 4
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 6
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 75
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)… 234
Short story collections…………………… 31

The Journal Is a Reader-Supported Publication

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Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

4 thoughts on “Writing Into (not in) the Dark”

  1. Hello,
    Cool post, as always. Study the craft is a must. I’m waiting for the next post, because it is a difficult field for me. I understand my subconscious digests every word I read… But also, with my conscious mind, can other writing techniques be useful?

    I am not familiar with writing with pain or surgery. However, I have some health issues. I can’t write a good guest post, but I would recommend Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Writing with chronic illness book, it contains several tips around the topic.

    • Thank you, Balázs. The writer has already bought and read Rusch’s book.

      I think you’ll enjoy tomorrow’s post. But sure, your conscious mind can read and study non-fiction how-to books to absorb whatever writing techniques you want. Just take what you feels right to you and leave the rest. Lawrence Block has several good non-fiction books on writing available.

  2. Hi,
    You may already know this and looking for something better. However, MS Word or Apple Pages on a phone has a voice dictation feature. Easy to use and very handy especially if your movement is restricted around getting to a desk etc. Something I keep using when I am away from the desk and want to keep my writing going for the day. Just copy paste the content later when you get back to your writing computer.

    • Thanks, Desikan. And would you be able to write a blog post about that? Your experiences with it, benefits and drawbacks, etc. If you can put together a blog post on it I would consider it for a guest post on the Journal.

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